Philippines reviews security protocols after terror attacks

A soldier inspects the damage caused by an explosion inside a Roman Catholic Church cathedral on Jolo island in the southern Philippines on January 28, 2019. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 10 July 2019

Philippines reviews security protocols after terror attacks

  • Decision follows 3 incidents in past year and arrests of foreigner militants

MANILA: Recent terror attacks on Mindanao island, believed to be perpetrated by foreign suicide bombers, have pushed Philippine officials to review the country’s security protocols, the spokesman for the Department of National Defense (DND) said on Tuesday.
This comes in the wake of the arrests of suspected foreign terrorists, including a Kenyan who was studying to become a pilot at an aviation school in Zambales province on Luzon island. 
Arsenio Andolong, director of the DND’s Public Affairs Service, told Arab News that to prevent other terror attacks, the government needs to “review and study how best it can address the problem.”
He cited a need to tighten border security and immigration policy, and amend the Human Security Act.
Three terror attacks have been recorded in the past year. In July 2018, a Moroccan drove up to a military checkpoint in the city of Lamitan and detonated a bomb, killing 10 people, including himself. 
In January this year, 23 people died and more than 100 were injured in an attack on a church in Jolo municipality, carried out by an Indonesian couple assisted by members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
On June 29, eight people died in an attack on the army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team (1BCT) in Indanan municipality. 
Also killed in the incident were the two suspects. One of them is allegedly the son of the Moroccan involved in the Lamitan attack, while the other is believed to be a Filipino. 
Also last month, a suspected Pakistani terrorist was arrested in Zamboanga city. And on July 1, Kenyan Cholo Abdi Abdullah, 28, an alleged member of the Al-Shabaab Islamist insurgent group in Somalia, was arrested in Zambales province.
“It isn’t yet confirmed, but in all likelihood it might be a suicide bombing,” Andolong said of the attack on 1BCT.
“That changes the ballgame. That means we’ll have to review our current security protocols, and that will entail many things.”
The Bureau of Immigration will have to work with its counterparts in other countries, Andolong said.
“We want tourists … but we also have security considerations that we now have to think about,” he added.
“Because of these latest incidents, there will definitely be a review in terms of the influx of foreigners into the country,” he said. “The intelligence community will have to also change the way it works.”
The Defense Department and military have to rethink how they locate military camps in the southern Philippines, as some of them are located in villages with a large population, he said.
Andolong also cited the need to push for the amendment of the Human Security Act to give more teeth to the campaign against terrorism.
“Because of the way they fashioned the Human Security Act, and even martial law, when a suspect gets caught, you only have three days to file a case against them,” he said.
“What we’re working on are tips, information from other intelligence agencies. Sometimes it’s difficult to vet the identity of the guy, so what we can do only is, on mere suspicion, we capture him, detain him and question him, but we can’t hold him for more than three days,” Andolong added.
“We really have to retool the way we deal with them. We have to review and study how best we can do this.”
Meanwhile, the military is looking into reports that an Egyptian couple who are already in the Philippines are planning to bomb another church in Jolo.
The couple are reportedly linked to the Indonesians responsible for January’s Jolo cathedral attack.
Col. Noel Detoyato, head of the public affairs office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said this information will be processed by intelligence units for confirmation.
Western Mindanao Command spokesman Maj. Arvin Encinas said it has not received information on the alleged plot, but it will be looked into. 
The command has monitored plans by local terror groups to conduct attacks using improvised explosive devices, particularly in the provinces of Sulu and Basilan.

Rich in dramatic Catholic history, Nagasaki awaits the pope

Updated 19 November 2019

Rich in dramatic Catholic history, Nagasaki awaits the pope

  • As Francis makes the first papal visit to Japan in 38 years, he will likely look to the past by honoring the doggedness of those so-called Hidden Christians
  • In many ways, Nagasaki is the perfect backdrop for his visit to a nation that was once coveted by the West as a place of Catholic expansion

NAGASAKI, Japan: It’s fitting that Pope Francis will start his first official visit to Japan in Nagasaki, the city where Christianity first took hold in the country and where nearly 500 years later it remains steeped in blood-soaked symbolism, both religious and political.

It was here that a small group of beleaguered Catholic converts went deep underground during centuries of violent persecution. It was here that their descendants dramatically emerged from hiding in the 19th century, their faith unbroken. And it was here that a US atom bomb brought death and destruction to the cathedral that community was finally able to build.

As Francis makes the first papal visit to Japan in 38 years, he will likely look to the past by honoring the doggedness of those so-called Hidden Christians, while also laying out his vision for a future free from the threat of nuclear weapons.

In many ways, Nagasaki is the perfect backdrop for his visit to a nation that was once coveted by the West as a place of Catholic expansion but where only 0.35 percent of the 127 million people are Catholic. One of the highlights of the visit starting Nov. 23 will be his prayer at a memorial to 26 martyrs crucified in 1597 at the start of an anti-Christian persecution that lasted until about 1870.

“Our Christian ancestors were oppressed and monitored, and then suffered from the atomic attack. This all made me think, ‘What is it supposed to mean?’” Japanese Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami said. “Perhaps the followers in Nagasaki have been given a mission to convey peace.”

Takami, who heads Nagasaki’s Catholic community of 60,000, by far the biggest in Japan, is a Hidden Christian descendant who was exposed to radiation in his mother’s womb when the atom bomb fell on Aug. 9, 1945, near Urakami Cathedral. He had several relatives die in the bombing that killed 74,000, a number that includes two priests and 24 followers inside the cathedral.

Takami, who has traveled the world with a statue of the Virgin Mary that was damaged in the blast, and other activists expect the pope will send a powerful anti-nuclear message on behalf of everyone in Nagasaki.

Many bomb survivors and supporters hope it will push Japan’s government, which is protected by the US nuclear umbrella, to sign the UN nuclear-ban treaty. Japan has refused to sign, saying it seeks to bridge the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states.

Francis has gone further than other popes on the nuclear matter, saying that not only the use, but the mere possession of nuclear weapons is “to be firmly condemned.”

Francis will likely repeat his appeal for a total ban on nuclear weapons when he visits Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where 140,000 were killed by another US atomic bomb.

He will meet with survivors of those bombs, as well as those affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed a March 2011 tsunami and earthquake in northern Japan.

“Your country knows well the suffering caused by war,” Francis said in a video message to the Japanese on the eve of his trip. “Along with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons never is let loose again on human history. The use of nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Takami, 73, grew up hearing stories from his relatives of the suffering that many in Nagasaki endured after the bombing and is reminded of his determination for peace every time he visits Urakami Cathedral.

“Any weapon is ghastly, but nuclear weapons are hundreds of times more so,” Takami said, adding they should be abolished. “World leaders should be ashamed of talking from a safe and distant place about nuclear weapons, calling them a deterrent even though they can kill hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.”

Many in Nagasaki are happy that the pope is coming first to their city, which is often eclipsed by the events in Hiroshima.

“I hope he will use his trip to Nagasaki to send a powerful message of the need to ban nuclear weapons,” said Chizuko Maruo, the daughter of an atomic bombing survivor who will attend the pope’s Sunday Mass at a city baseball stadium.

Francis will also greet some descendants of the Hidden Christians, who developed their own unique prayer known as the “Orasho,” or oratio, while hiding in Nagasaki’s northern islands, where some local Shinto and Buddhist residents supported them.

Francis, who is known to Japanese Catholics as Papa-sama, will also hold a Mass in Hiroshima and in Tokyo and meet with Japan’s emperor and prime minister.

Francis’ messages about life are universal and still can reach people’s hearts, especially given the state of global politics, said Kagefumi Ueno, a former Japanese ambassador to the Vatican.

“At a time when global leaders are increasingly becoming populist, the pope’s words can be a virtue of the international community and a moral authority,” he said.

As a youth Francis is said to have been fascinated by the history of the Christian experience in Nagasaki and wanted to be a missionary there.

The area around Nagasaki became the center of a rapid Catholic expansion after the 1549 arrival to Japan of St. Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit missionary. More than a quarter-million Japanese are said to have converted until the Tokugawa shogunate, fearing that Christianity was the beginning of Western domination, outlawed it 1612.

Christians were forced to renounce their beliefs on pain of death and to trample on Catholic icons. When discovered, Christians were tortured. Many were thrown into boiling hot springs or burned to death.

A small, determined Catholic minority went into hiding and practiced their faith in secret for more than 250 years. The Hidden Christians finally broke their silence in 1865 by approaching a foreign priest. But with the ban on Christianity still in place, the 3,300 Catholics were banished from Nagasaki and were not allowed to return until the ban was lifted in 1873. They built their long-dreamed-of cathedral in 1914.

Mitsuho Nakata, an artisan who makes Catholic statues near Urakami, is the great-grandson of a samurai who cut ties with his feudal lord to pursue his Catholic faith. A group of samurai ambushed and killed most of his great-grandfather’s family.

After studying at a Catholic theological school, Nakata returned to work in the family-run workshop his father started.

“My family is here only because our ancestors kept their faith despite constant fear of getting killed or tortured,” Nakata said at his workshop, surrounded by dozens of statues of the Virgin Mary and saints. “I’m so impressed by their devotion and their strong faith and that they abandoned everything they had for it.”